It’s not often that a travel book actually brings a tear to my eye and makes me feel totally uplifted at the same time. Not often at all, really, and yet The Kindness of Strangers managed it regularly.
Pretty good for a collection of short stories – several written by first time authors. Then again, when it was edited by Don George (the guy who literally wrote the book on travel writing) and with a foreword by the Dalai Lama, it had pretty stellar credentials I guess.
Even getting hold of the book was serendipitous. I’d seen it listed on the Lonely Planet site ages ago and thought it sounded interesting, but it wasn’t until it popped up one day while I was messing around on Amazon buying something else that I decided to take the leap.
Not that it was much of a leap, to be honest … the book was written a few years ago, and the second-hand version that turned up in my mailbox cost a full four bucks.
I’m ashamed to say that the little book sat on my bookshelf for a few months gathering dust before I got around to reading it. Once I finally opened it, however, I was instantly hooked. The stories seemed both instantly familiar and totally foreign, and I connected with every single one of them.
The thing I really loved about The Kindness of Strangers was that it wasn’t about the big events. Wars weren’t ended, cities weren’t saved, thousands of people weren’t rescued. It was about the little things. The small kindnesses, the tiny nuances of life that could so easily have gone a different way. The fact that they didn’t, and that I could imagine the same things happening on my own travels, was what regularly bought a lump to my throat.
and so many others.
There were funny stories – the tale of skimpy knickers and a pushy saleswoman in Buenos Aires had me laughing out loud.
There were sad stories too – desperation in Cuba, for instance, or an accidental death in Turkey.
Mostly though, there were stories of understanding, humility and humanity. In a few pages each shared experience, each random act of kindness gave the author a glimpse into another world and a renewed faith in other people. It had the same effect on me as a reader, and was the perfect way to brighten up my day as I slowly worked my way through the book, one short tale at a time.
I was sad to finally read the last chapter and put The Kindness of Strangers back on the bookshelf. It won’t stay there for long, though – it’s far too good a collection not to be shared.
Thinking about it, that’s really the best recommendation I can give for any book.
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